Undeveloped shoreline and numerous camping options give this river a wilderness feel. Its crystal waters cut a gentle path rarely interrupted by rapids. Although the river is seldom more than three feet deep, it is nearly always deep enough for canoeing. There are no major rapids.
The island at the mouth of the river resembles the wing of a bird, and is believed to be the origin of the river's name.
River segments and maps
Get maps and more information for this river's two segments:
Much of the river is flanked by thick forests. For its first 20 miles the river cuts through low marshy lands. The river broadens and the banks increase in height as it flows southward. Jack pine forest has all but replaced the virgin white and red pine forests on the sandy plains of northern Wadena County. Hazel, blueberries, sweet fern, bearberry, wintergreen, bracken and reindeer moss provide lush ground cover.
The river's lower reaches are flanked by a river bottom forest of elm, ash, cottonwood, box elder, oak, basswood, maple, willow and aspen. Grasslands, bogs and swamps are scattered throughout the river corridor.
Fish and wildlife
Eating fish from a Minnesota river or lake? Read the MN Department of Health's fish consumption advisory.
Because of its sandy bottom, sparse aquatic vegetation and lack of deep pools, this is not a good game fish river and supports only a limited number of waterfowl. Northern redhorse and white sucker, both rough fish, are the river's most common species. However, the river's diverse vegetation supports a wide variety of wildlife.
- Black bears
- White-tailed deer
- Bald eagles
- Great blue herons
- Ruffed grouse
- Various waterfowl
The Dakota held the Crow Wing region until the Ojibwe began moving westward in the early 1700s. By the early 1800s the Ojibwe controlled lands west of the Mississippi and north of the Crow Wing. There are Indian burial mounds at several sites along the river corridor, including a site at river mile 61.
Fur traders entered the region in the early 1700s. In 1792 the Northwest Company established the Wadena Trading Post on the west bluff of the river at its junction with the Partridge River. There was considerable overland trade in the area by the 1800s. The Old Otter Tail Trail crossed the river near the Wadena post and was the main transportation route between St. Paul and Fort Garry in Winnipeg.
Dense forests near the river made Nimrod an important lumbering center from the 1870s to the early 1900s. By the turn of the century most of the virgin timber had been cleared and the economy came to depend on agriculture.
The river was established as a state water trail in 1967.